President-elect Joe Biden pledged to “unify the country” in his first address after he was announced as the projected winner of the 2020 election (Photo: Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
By Toluse Olorunnipa, Annie Linskey and Philip Rucker
November 8, 2020 at 1:33 p.m. GMT+9
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was elected the nation’s 46th president Saturday in a repudiation of President Trump powered by legions of women and minority voters who rejected his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his divisive, bullying conduct in office.
Biden’s victory was the culmination of four years of struggle for Democrats and others who have resisted Trump. It was celebrated by an emotional outpouring in cities coast to coast that ended with a tailgate-style victory party in Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Del. The election took four days to be resolved after the former vice president was projected to win a series of battleground states, and was clinched by the state where he was born, Pennsylvania.
Voters also made history in electing as vice president Kamala Devi Harris, 56, a senator from California and daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants who will become the country’s first woman, first Black person and first Asian American to hold the No. 2 job.
Trump, who was at his Virginia golf course when Biden was declared the winner, did not concede.
In a prime-time speech to flag-waving supporters outside the Chase Center in Wilmington, Biden made no mention of Trump’s intransigence, instead offering an olive branch to the president’s supporters and imploring all Americans to “put away the harsh rhetoric” and end “this grim era of demonization.”
“To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy,” Biden said, before referring to the Book of Ecclesiastes. “The Bible tells us that to everything there is a season — a time to build, a time to reap, a time to sow. And a time to heal. This is the time to heal in America.”
Before introducing Biden, Harris acknowledged the history-making reality of her election, saying she stood on the shoulders of trailblazing women and would do her best to join their ranks.
“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last,” Harris, wearing all white, said to raucous applause. “Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
She described Biden as a “healer” and a “tested and steady hand” ready to help shepherd the country through multiple crises.
News of Biden’s victory — and Trump’s defeat — sent thousands of people into the streets for impromptu celebrations in cities including Philadelphia, Atlanta, New York and Washington.
The events mirrored some of the mass demonstrations that have taken place across America in the past four years, as diverse groups have protested gun violence, sexual assault, systemic racism, police brutality and Trump’s presidency.
But the joyous outbursts came against a dark backdrop: a bitter and closer-than-expected election that revealed the nation’s deep fissures, and the precedent-shattering attempts by an incumbent president to defy its results.
Trump on Saturday continued to make baseless claims that the election was rigged, assertions that have been echoed by his loyal supporters.
“I WON THE ELECTION, GOT 71,000,000 LEGAL VOTES,” Trump tweeted Saturday afternoon, despite the reality that he was losing the popular vote for a second time and at risk of facing a 306-to-232 electoral college drubbing.
Trump’s allies encouraged his supporters to prepare to protest in the streets, and most Republican leaders remained silent rather than publicly acknowledging the outcome of a free and fair election resulting in their standard-bearer’s defeat.
In a statement shortly after the race was called, Trump defiantly claimed that “this race is far from over” and pledged to challenge the result in the courts until “the rightful winner is seated.”
Biden won three swing states that Trump had claimed in 2016 — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — reconstituting the “blue wall” that had protected previous Democratic nominees.
He was projected the winner in Nevada on Saturday, completing his successful defense of all states won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. He also was leading in the formerly Republican terrain of Arizona and Georgia as he boosted Democratic votes across the Sun Belt. By early Saturday, Biden had amassed a record 74.6 million votes, beating Trump by more than 4 million, a margin that was expected to increase once all ballots were certified.
By denying Trump a second term, a country convulsed by health, economic and social crises brought to an end a tumultuous presidency that polarized the nation and was characterized by attacks on undocumented immigrants, political adversaries and, at times, the rule of law.
On Saturday, Biden presented a starkly different vision for governing and vowed to be a president for all Americans, not just those who elected him.
“For all those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight,” he said in his only mention of the incumbent. “I’ve lost a couple times, myself. But now, let’s give each other a chance.”
He called the lack of bipartisan cooperation “a decision we’ve made” that could and should be reversed during his presidency. “If we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate,” he said. “I believe that this is part of the mandate given to us from the American people. They want us to cooperate.”
Trump had vented his frustration on Twitter and in a defiant speech from the White House on Thursday night. He and his aides alternately demanded that vote-counting end or continue as they searched for dwindling opportunities for a path to 270 electoral votes. They filed multiple legal challenges over the election in several states.
Voters punctuated the extraordinarily ugly and disruptive campaign season by choosing as Trump’s successor his antithesis — a career Democratic politician who offered himself as a healer with the compassion and empathy he said was needed to usher in an era of civility and restore the soul of America. He won the presidency on the 48th anniversary of his first election to the Senate, on Nov. 7, 1972.
Biden, who will be 78 when he is sworn in Jan. 20, will become the nation’s oldest president and will arrive with nearly a half-century in elected office, including eight years as vice president and 36 years representing Delaware in the Senate. He is also the second Catholic and first Delawarean to be elected president.
He used his remarks Saturday to cite a popular Catholic hymn, “On Eagles’ Wings,” offering it as a source of solace to those who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus crisis.
Biden said controlling the pandemic would be his first order of business, and announced plans to name a group of scientists and experts to create a plan of action for implementation beginning Jan. 20.
“I will spare no effort — none, or any commitment — to turn around this pandemic,” he said.
Harris’s ascent to one of the nation’s two highest offices marked a particularly momentous occasion in the history of women’s rights and came a century after the 19th Amendment guaranteed all women the right to vote. It also occurred four years after Clinton, the first female presidential nominee of a major political party, lost unexpectedly to Trump.
Since then, a record number of women have been elected to offices across the country, amid the tenure of a president who has insulted women, demeaned their looks and belittled the #MeToo movement against sexual assault.
Biden’s win was powered by a record number of votes by women, with Black women providing an especially large boost, according to preliminary exit polls. More than 90 percent of Black women supported the Biden-Harris ticket, making for the widest margin in any voting bloc in the country.
Harris, who attended Howard University in Washington, is also the first graduate of a historically Black university to be elected to serve in the White House.
While Biden’s path to victory became clearer Wednesday after he secured wins in key battleground states, the apparently narrow margins in several states left the outcome in doubt for days. During that period, Trump sought to shift the race to the courts by alleging fraud but providing no evidence.
Trump has previously declined multiple opportunities to commit to a peaceful transition of power, saying he reserved the right to object to what he has defined as fraud despite the lack of evidence.
Despite Trump’s unprecedented effort to use the vast platform of the presidency to cast doubt on the legitimacy of an American election, the traditional markers of a coming transfer of power began to emerge shortly after Biden was declared the winner.
Former presidents and presidential candidates released statements congratulating the new president-elect; world leaders reached out to express optimism about developing a working relationship; Democratic congressional leaders expressed their support; and, despite pressure from some of Trump’s allies not to legitimize the results, some Republicans also publicly sent their well wishes to the soon-to-be Biden-Harris administration.
“Our democracy needs all of us more than ever,” former president Barack Obama said in a statement offering well wishes on behalf of himself and his wife, Michelle Obama. “Michelle and I look forward to supporting our next President and First Lady however we can.”
Among the Republicans sending statements of support were former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.
Among the world leaders who swiftly and publicly congratulated Biden on Saturday were British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“The US is our most important ally and I look forward to working closely together on our shared priorities, from climate change to trade and security,” Johnson said in a statement released on Twitter.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered “heartiest congratulations” to Harris, whose mother immigrated to the United States from India, for inspiring “immense pride” for Indian Americans.
Throughout the campaign, Biden pitched himself to voters as a uniter who would restore the nation’s governing norms, respect long-standing institutions and reconnect relationships with international allies that have frayed as Trump embraced autocrats and brushed aside leaders of other democracies.
Unlike in his two other attempts at the White House, in the 1988 and 2008 contests, Biden entered the race at the top of the polls. He crafted a decidedly centrist pitch as many other candidates vied for attention from the energized liberal wing of the Democratic Party.
But his candidacy struggled in the early contests. He placed a dismal fourth in Iowa, then sank to fifth in New Hampshire.
Biden’s chances brightened in Nevada, where he was powered by a more diverse electorate. And then the race moved onto turf far more agreeable to a man who had long worked with Black elected officials and served the first African American president — South Carolina, and its predominantly Black Democratic electorate.
Boosted by support from Rep. James E. Clyburn, an influential Black Democrat in the state, he rallied to an easy victory, and he replicated it in a host of states over the next few weeks to effectively clinch the nomination just as the nation closed down under the explosion of the coronavirus.
Even in the general election, the campaign tried to maintain a low profile, with Biden avoiding showmanship and making a point to elevate others in the party.
He focused insistently on the coronavirus, keeping a card with an updated death count with him at all times and deploying his own personal story of loss to convey a sense of empathy that he said the president lacked. He hoped that his experience with the death of his first wife and their daughter in a 1972 car accident and the 2015 death from cancer of his son Beau would help him connect with a country in mourning.
Biden’s campaign also reflected his desire to model the guidance of public health officials in minimizing the spread of a virus that has killed more than 237,000 Americans. He wore a mask at all public appearances, at times for entire speeches, unless he was yards from anyone else, and urged Americans to follow suit. Even as the president resurrected mass gatherings, filled with maskless supporters who refused to socially distance, Biden held no large rallies, instead speaking before parking lots full of cars as supporters honked in agreement.
Clinching the nomination early offered advantages, affording Biden time to unite the Democratic Party. He rolled out back-to-back-to-back virtual endorsements by former rivals in which they would appear together on video, events that fostered a sense of Democratic bonhomie after a bruising primary.He worked with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his supporters to develop policies, effectively muting the criticism from the left that had hounded Clinton.
Trump used the cooperation as an attack line, saying the “manifesto” that the two wings of the party developed showed that Biden was controlled by the left. To respond, Biden would point to his long record as a moderate. “The party is me. Right now, I am the Democratic Party,” Biden snapped to Trump as the president made a case that the Democratic Party is controlled by its liberal base.
The GOP also tried to weaponize Biden’s authorship of the 1994 crime bill, which critics say led to mass incarceration. Biden never apologized for his role in shepherding the legislation, which also included a 10-year ban on assault weapons. Although the Republican effort appeared to have nominally boosted Trump’s support among Black men, Biden retained the overwhelming backing of non-White voting groups.
Biden’s ascent to the White House reflects a decades-long quest for the presidency and a remarkable rise from his roots in Scranton, Pa., a childhood he often references in his speeches.
His family moved to Delaware when he was a boy, but Biden maintained his ties to his native town. On Election Day, he made a campaign stop at his former home and wrote a note on the living room wall. “From this house to the White House with the grace of God,” Biden wrote.
His first White House campaign ended in 1987 when he bowed out after being accused of plagiarizing. His second, in 2008, ended after a bad showing in Iowa but put him on the path to becoming vice president.
But Biden situated himself as an institutionalist and creature of the Senate, where he served for six terms. He chaired the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees, overseeing the hot-button Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. His regrets over how Anita Hill was treated as a witness during the latter hearings led him to push to add women to the Judiciary Committee and ultimately to elevate Harris as his vice-presidential pick.
Trump, the third president in American history to be impeached, is set to leave office with a tenuous legacy and a long string of unfulfilled promises. His final months in office aren’t likely to change that, with the country beset by a surging public health crisis.
His loss all but ensures that he will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to leave office with fewer Americans employed than when he was sworn in. The 6.9 percent unemployment rate in October, while down from the pandemic high of more than 14 percent, is still significantly above the 4.7 percent rate when he took over in January 2017.
The national debt has soared, thousands of troops remain in overseas war zones and the kind of Washington influence-peddling Trump calls “the swamp” has only increased under his watch. Trade deficits persist, and the fence project on the border with Mexico has been neither completed nor, as Trump promised, financed by the Mexican government.
The president’s decision to sign hundreds of executive orders and bypass Congress rather than securing policy changes via legislation means that much of his legacy can easily be overturned. Yet while Biden campaigned on a promise to roll back Trump’s signature legislative victory — a tax cut passed in 2017 — he may not be able to do so if Republicans maintain their Senate majority.
Still, Trump’s term in office will be recorded in history books as turbulent, norm-shattering and consequential on numerous fronts. He was impeached by the House last year for alleged abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after he encouraged Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. He was ultimately acquitted by the Senate.
He has cemented his impact on the federal judiciary, appointing more than 200 judges and three Supreme Court justices. Their impact on American life will extend long past Trump’s term.
When Biden is sworn in, he will have an opportunity to leave his own stamp on a country he has served in public office for the vast majority of his adult life.
“I’ve long talked about the battle for the soul of America. We must restore the soul of America,” he said Saturday. “Our nation is shaped by the constant battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses. And what presidents say in this battle matters. It is time for our better angels to prevail.”